Last week I wrote about our move to Mexico in 1993, a move that promised to give me the time to write the next novel at hours later than 4 a.m. to 7 a.m. I should say a bit more about that decision.
Why Mexico? The three most compelling reasons were culture, distance and dollars. As long as we were planning to be gone for a year with our two younger children, ages 14 and 13, we wanted a cultural experience that broadened the horizons of all four of us. Barbara and I felt the kids would benefit from seeing life outside their comfortable zip code back home in Newport News. My youngest child, Carter, highlighted this need quite innocently one day when he asked when we were getting a jet ski.
“We are not getting a jet ski,” I told him. “You have a brother in college, another brother about to enter college, and tuition is expensive.”
“But Dad,” he said, “everyone in the world has a jet ski.”
Oh? While I had never been to Mexico when this exchange took place, I felt reasonably certain it would open his eyes to some realities he needed to learn. Months later, we crossed the border into Nuevo Laredo, a town which today has sadly become caught in the crossfire of warring drug cartels, but back then was just a sleepy Mexican city, dirt poor U.S. standards. As we crossed the Rio Grande and drove through block after block of Nuevo Laredo’s barrios, I said to him, “Carter, where do you suppose all the Mexicans keep their jet skis? I don’t see any.” From the back seat came this: “Okay, Dad, give it up. I get it.”
In addition to a cultural awakening, there was the distance factor. With our eldest son, Caldwell, at The Citadel, and our middle son, Nelson, headed to William & Mary that fall, we wanted to live somewhere close enough to get to either if some emergency arose. That ruled out Asia and much of the rest of the world. By air, the U.S. is a full day from San Miguel de Allende, and I mean a FULL day, but it is doable. A four hour bus ride to Mexico City, a taxi ride from the north bus station to Benito Juarez Airport, a connecting flight, usually in Atlanta, and you’re there. I’ve since done it many times.
The third criterion, dollars, can be summed up quickly. It is cheaper to live in Mexico than in the U.S., then and now, a major factor in the decision of many current U.S. citizens to retire there. Food is much cheaper (and fresher), medical care is far less expensive (with the quality improving dramatically) and tequila costs a fraction of American prices. The exchange rate then was 3 pesos for $1. We were on a budget, so Mexico made sense.
Next week I’ll address the logical follow-up question: why San Miguel de Allende?